Out-Law News 2 min. read

North Yorkshire fracking approval 'may be game changer' for UK shale, says expert

The grant of planning permission for a shale gas fracking project in North Yorkshire will be welcomed by an industry which has been "thwarted time and again by lengthy delays" and fierce opposition, an expert has said.

Energy and planning partner Mike Pocock of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that Third Energy's planned project "may well be a game changer" for UK shale.

"The green light for Kirby Misperton gives fresh impetus to the nascent energy industry, as plans can now be made for exploratory drilling to begin in earnest," he said. "Indeed, if the exploratory drilling demonstrates a commercially viable flow of gas from the well the planning permission also authorises a production phase for up to nine years."

"It's only right that communities are given a forum in which to voice concerns about proposed developments. But a balance must be struck between encouraging debate and ensuring policies and process supports a robust legal framework which developers can rely upon to be fair and unbiased. The somewhat frenetic debate around shale gas in recent years has stifled the advance of a potentially crucial energy source which could enhance our energy mix, reduce our dependence on imported energy and attract much-needed investment into our indigenous energy sector," he said.

The council's planning committee voted seven to four in favour of the plans following two days of hearings. Third Energy has proposed to 'frack' for shale gas at an existing well outside the village of Kirby Misperton; a process which involves pumping water at high pressure into rock to create narrow fractures through which trapped natural gas can flow out and be captured.

Third Energy's planning application is the first to be approved since 2011, and comes after the government amended the relevant planning guidance in August last year. In a statement, the council said that it had come to its decision "within the national policy framework that indigenous oil and gas remain key to energy security while facilitating the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions".

"This must be a material consideration as is the need for economic growth and development that will provide jobs and sustainable communities," it said.

"The county council has taken a single decision on a single site in North Yorkshire which already has existing conventional drilling for gas on it. The planning committee is satisfied that in this particular application, mitigation of the effects of the development with regard to safeguarding the natural environment, protected species and habitats, the amenity of local residents, the protection of ground and surface water quality and traffic management can be achieved through the discharge of the planning conditions," it said.

Third Energy chief executive Rasik Valand said that there would be no immediate activity at the site, given the company's need to meet conditions set by both the planning authority and the Environment Agency. The project also required "other consents and notifications ... prior to receiving final consent from the Secretary of State", he added.

Protest groups, including Friends of the Earth, are planning a legal challenge to the decision, according to the BBC. However, Pocock pointed out that judicial review was a "potentially costly and lengthy" process, which was "focused on narrow grounds such as legal errors and ... not an opportunity to re-open the merits of the proposals".

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